The Senate Energy and Utilities Committee this week focused on two pieces of legislation that would result in increases to energy utility bills across the state. One bill would lift Minnesota’s moratorium on creating new nuclear facilities in the state. Another bill would repeal the Conservation Improvement Program (CIP) – the state’s most successful energy program in several decades. Both bills received hearings despite recent news that the state had seen a massive spike in natural gas prices – which are currently estimated to be upwards of 50 times the average cost of natural gas at this time of year.
While Republicans on the committee argued lifting the moratorium on issuing new certificates of need for nuclear facilities is the only path forward to having a conversation on the merits of nuclear, DFLers were quick to point out that nothing in statute currently prohibits the Legislature and stakeholders from having these conversations now. Furthermore, though nuclear energy is often times looked to for consideration within the broader conversation about carbon-free clean energy, opponents argue that nuclear poses grave environmental and health problems and is actually quite costly to ratepayers and would not be a cost-effective and sustainable long-term solution.
The second Republican proposal would repeal CIP, an extremely effective and widely utilized program that has saved Minnesota consumers and businesses millions of dollars every year in energy costs. From 2013-2018, it’s estimated the program has driven over $11 billion in new economic activity in the state while creating over 48,000 local, good-paying jobs. These jobs would be jeopardized during a global pandemic if the program were repealed. Additionally, parts of CIP are specifically dedicated to helping low-income Minnesotans statewide to save in energy costs, through home upgrades, insulation installation, and providing funding for other cost-saving measures; repealing the program would affect residents in small rural communities just as much as those living in the metro.
The timing for bringing up these bills could not be worse; the statewide spike in natural gas prices is already a topic that has caught the attention of state government, with the Department of Commerce and the Public Utilities Commission holding a public meeting on the topic and the legislature’s energy committees calling for additional oversight of the issue. The results of these spikes are being felt immediately by some of our utilities with limited cash reserves, but all Minnesota ratepayers will be seeing large increases in their utility bills whether it comes sooner or later in the year.
Now is not the time to consider proposals that would add costs to Minnesotans’ bills and hurt their ability to conserve energy, nor should we be rolling back programs that create jobs and help low-income Minnesotans stay in their homes. Echoing the concerns of clean energy advocates, environmentalists, businesses, and consumers, Senate DFLers strongly opposed both provisions and will fight against them becoming law; at the same time, we will continue to advocate for cost-effective clean energy solutions that provide jobs to Minnesotans and protect our environment.
The proposal to lift the nuclear moratorium was sent to general orders for a vote from the full body, and the proposal to repeal CIP was laid over for possible inclusion in a broader energy-related omnibus bill. (SF 225) (SF 992)